Pike River compensation “pathetic”: CFMEU

Compensation awarded to families of the Pike River mine victims has been labelled “pathetic” and serves as a reminder that miners shouldn’t write their own safety rules, unions say.

CFMEU mining and energy general secretary Andrew Vickers has called for governments to guarantee no lessening of Australian mine safety standards amid industry calls for less ‘regulatory burden’.

But the sector’s calls to eliminate ‘regulatory burden’ are primarily around the approvals process which is laden with red tape and duplication across state and federal governments, not safety legislation.

This week Pike River mine was ordered to pay $760,000 in fines and more than $3 million in reparations for breaches of health and safety regulations.

The families of the 29 men that were killed in the November 19, 2010 gas explosion along with two survivors were each awarded $110,000 in compensation.

But the company is now in receivership and according to 3news.co.nz it has just $156,000 available in a post-explosion insurance fund for fines and reparations.

Judge Jane Farish said she is confident the reparation would be paid despite concerns over the company’s financial status.

But the company has indicated it only has enough money to pay $NZ5000 to each family, The Australian reported.

A Royal Commission investigation into the tragedy recommended industry and site check inspectors be reintroduced after industry-led deregulation of the New Zealand coal industry.

“The commission found that industry and site check inspectors, union roles traditionally managed by highly trained safety representatives and experts, could have played a crucial role in preventing the Pike River disaster,” Vickers said.

The unions claim the Australian mining sector is “taking steps to lessen the power of such health and safety representatives” which was a main point of contention in recent BMA strikes in the Queensland Bowen Basin.

But the mines hit back saying the unions are up in arms because the mines are attempting to appoint a non-union representative to the health and safety positions.

Commenting on the long running BMA battle BHP has previously said remaining issues in the dispute weren’t related to safety and worker issues but rather union power on site.

Vickers said the New Zealand disaster is a tragic reflection of unscrupulous mine managers and company directors.

“But essentially it is a failure of both government and industry which allowed the stripping away of safety regulation at mine sites under the guise of ‘easing the regulatory burden’ for companies,” he said.

Vickers accused Australian miners of hiding behind a downturn for calls to reduce regulation.

“On our own soil business and mining lobby groups are using tighter market conditions – much of which is the companies own making – to line up behind Tony Abbott’s call for less ‘red and green tape’.

“Less ‘red and green tape’ is a nice way of saying multinationals don’t want to comply with Australian standards for ensuring proper planning or the safe management of mining projects.”

Mining’s peak body the Australian Minerals Council recently reinforced its electoral policy wish list calling for a stable and competitive tax and royalty arrangements, a streamlined approvals process, workplace arrangements that reward for higher productivity, and a focus on lifting education capacity in minerals related areas.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, together with the shadow resources minister Ian Macfarlane both used their MCA addresses to outline the Coalitions’ new and improved “one-stop-shop” approvals process policy which would remove duplication and combine local, state, and federal approvals.

As a policy it is attractive to the mining sector, purporting to allow projects to be approved in a more timely fashion, it does however raise a number of questions in terms of social licences to mine and taking the power away from the states and communities.

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